Lecture Series - Who are the Irish?

February 04, 2021

If you are unable to attend the live session, do not worry - all those who register will automatically be sent copies of the lecture to view in your own time.


Who are the Irish? Mixing Gaels, Vikings, Normans & Planters 

AI Book of Kells           

Ireland’s early Christian ‘Golden Age’ did not last long as new arrivals disturbed local norms, in art as in life. First the Vikings, and then the Normans forced Ireland to engage with external forces it had long not needed to confront. The arrival of these outsiders, driven by military opportunism and haphazard attempts at conquest, dominates medieval Ireland. The emergence of the Tudor dynasty in England altered the pace of such efforts and saw the introduction of new attempts ‘to plant’ Ireland with the English language and the new, reformed religion as the island was upgraded from ‘Lordship’ to ‘Kingdom’. However, it was the confiscation of vast swathes of Irish land, and its redistribution to largely English and Scottish settlers, the "Plantations" as they are known, which truly altered the course of Irish history. Gaelic Ireland resisted in so far as it could, but the inevitable collapse of the ‘Old Order’ was sealed when William of Orange defeated James II.

What is often called Ireland’s "long" eighteenth century saw the emergence of a new elite, the Anglo-Irish ‘Ascendancy’, who controlled almost all aspects of public life, with their Catholic and Dissenting fellow Irish excluded by statute from any meaningful role in the affairs of the Irish kingdom. By mid-century, revolutionary ideas coming from enlightenment Europe sowed the seeds of renewed resistance, partially successful in terms of limited local reforms, but eventually crushed by the Crown via the Act of Union of 1800, which saw Ireland absorbed into a newly minted ‘United’ Kingdom of Great Britain & Ireland. Of course, all of this must be seen against the threat posed by Napoleon’s rise, with Ireland a possible ‘back door’ for a French invasion of Britain. This is the narrative which will provide us with the warp and weft of Irish history as we look at it through the prism of its architecture and visual arts, not to mention the rich seam of contemporary sources – saints, scholars, soldiers and not a few sinners, sacred and profane.

Saints & Scholars Scattered: The World Comes Calling
- Thursday, 4 February 2021

Once Christianity came to Ireland it wasn’t long before there was a parallel movement which saw the Irish fan out across Europe, some as missionaries, others as valued administrators. Equally, the outside world came calling, first Vikings from Scandinavia, followed some centuries later by Normans from England - these arrivals saw an opportunity either to plunder or to settle. Material culture reflected this change of tempo and personnel as the previous high level of invention and craftsmanship in stone – the high crosses and round towers, for example – mutated into new building types such as walled towns and stone castles.  Simultaneously, Irish church buildings opened up to the Romanesque and Gothic of Europe and England, as seen for example in the transformation of the famous 'Rock of Cashel'. All told, together they bear ample testament to the vigour of these early attempts at conquest and settlement. That this settlement did not fully succeed helps explain the startling events of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Planting Ireland: Surrender & Re-grant - Friday 5 February 2021 

The rise of the Tudor dynasty saw determined efforts to bring Ireland to heel as the power of the great Irish families, be they Gaelic as with the O’Neill chieftains of Ulster, or Anglo-Norman such as the Fitzgerald Earls of Kildare and Desmond, were curbed. This is the era of ‘plantation’ when under both Tudor and Stuart monarchs, large areas of Ireland were repopulated by new settlers from across the Irish Sea.  Inevitably, the resulting conflicts meant that the conditions necessary for the creation of sophisticated architecture, and the patronage required to sustain painting and the decorative arts, did not always prevail. Thus, there are no renaissance or baroque ‘palaces’ to be found in the Emerald Isle! That said, what we do have is the emergence of our first proper ‘domestic’ architecture and a realisation that ‘comfort’ might be possible, indeed preferable. The Butler family, Earls and Dukes of Ormonde, with their many castles and houses at Kilkenny and elsewhere, were one of the principal patrons of the arts at the time and have left us vivid testimony to this change. Nonetheless, if you have Irish ‘connections’, however remote, the ‘Battle of the Boyne’, fought in 1690 between the Dutch and Protestant William of Orange and his Roman Catholic father-in-law, James II, will signal different things, given your family’s past. Did they support one or other side; Protestant or Catholic? After the end of the battles between ‘Williamite and Jacobite' did they leave Ireland or stay? If they stayed, were they part of the new political and economic elite or were they excluded from these levers of prosperity until the slow reforms of the nineteenth century? These are the choices which will shape Ireland’s ‘long’ eighteenth century.

Making Merry, Making Do: Life & Art in Georgian Dublin - Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Originally a Viking raiding centre, Dublin grew to prosperity through trade but above all as the military headquarters from which the conquest, and eventually the government, of Ireland was organised by the English crown. The medieval walls have gone, the Norman castle is there but wrapped in Georgian clothes, while some of its churches have survived, despite the Victorian restorers. It morphed from garrison town into something truly astonishing as in the eighteenth century it became the second city of the just emerging British Empire.  The monarch’s Viceroy now presided over a glittering court at Dublin Castle, and the city’s public buildings were of unprecedented grandeur for these islands. Taken together, the Parliament House by Sir Edward Lovet Pearce, Trinity College by a host of architects, and the many exquisitely detailed buildings by James Gandon created a dazzling impression. Private houses were often conceived almost on the scale of European palaces, decorated and furnished accordingly. This world, seen at close quarters through contemporary accounts, paintings, engravings and the evidence of the buildings themselves, will give an insight into an unforgettable place and age. But it was not to last…

The Rise & Fall of the Irish Country House: Sleeping Beauties or Celtic Cinderellas? - Wednesday, 10 February 2021

By the end of the seventeenth century, with the final defeat of the old ‘Catholic Gaelic and Anglo-Norman’ Ireland and the emergence of the new ‘Protestant and Ascendancy’ Ireland, conditions began to change. With peace came prosperity and so too did the desire to improve the quality of buildings and to decorate and furnish them in the most up-to-date contemporary European fashions. While Ireland never had a ‘Baroque’ of its own, that did not stop European craftsmen from giving the newly fashionable ‘Palladian’ houses then in vogue some vivid and exuberant interiors in the best continental taste, as stucco putti ruled the roost, so to speak! Simultaneously, the Irish began to travel, not only to London but also on the ‘Grand Tour’ thus ensuring that taste was broadened and updated as Palladian, Rococo and Neo-classical modes held sway. In fact, the land-owning classes spent on a lavish scale: Beaulieu, Bellamont Forest, Castletown Conolly, Carton, Russborough and Castle Coole will be amongst the remarkable country houses which will be looked at in some detail. As in Dublin, so too in the country and it was not to last as the concentration of power in the hands of a minority was challenged, not to mention the iniquities of religious discrimination and the still festering wounds of land distribution.  The 1800 Act of Union changed the relationship between these neighbouring islands, and the nineteenth century saw a series of tragic events which haunt Ireland to this day, a topic to which we shall return in a subsequent series of webinars later this year.


Format for Lecture

Tom will give four one-hour illustrated lectures for £37.50. During the lecture you will have the chance to submit written questions which Tom will answer at the end - if time permits.

You will not need to download any software and the lecture will work in any browser. For the best experience use a desktop or laptop - but it will also work on an iPad or similar tablet. You will be also able to re-watch or watch a recording after the lecture.

Tom has produced a slide and redaing list to accompany the lectures which you can download here.



Register for Lectures - 4, 5, 9 & 10 February at 11am


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